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Ballets Russes

Mood: in-between | Drinking: tea


For my birthday last fall, my friend K gave me a documentary called Ballets Russes.

I have been a big fan of ballet since I was a wee small thing and my mother took me to see The Nutcracker one holiday.

Unfortunately for my ballet ambitions, I am tall, curvy, and clumsy — and nothing close to flexible, so dancing sur les pointes was not in the cards for me. But I have always harboured a special fondness for dancers that is likely, if I’m being honest, backlit by the green light of jealousy.

Dance in general and ballet in particular is an art form that never fails to amaze me. Perhaps I love it even more because I have no talent for it.

So I knew I was in for a treat when I sat down to watch Ballets Russes, the story of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Original Ballet Russe.

It’s a brilliant documentary, if you’re at all a fance of dance — or of adorable, elderly Russians. I was especially taken with Nathalie Krassovska, one of the founding members — and prima ballerina — of the Ballets de Monte Carlo.

In the documentary, Ms. Krassovska, then in her 80s, dyed black hair coiled atop her head, dons a leotard and swirls about a studio, attempting to recreate the grace of her youth. Something about that moment struck me, made me think about how fleeting beauty is, and how we are in our primes for such a blink of an eye.

It reminded me of one of the last things my grandmother said to me, the day she died, as she struggled to catch her breath walking to the car. She looked up at me with a twisted smile, faded eyes still flashing, and shook her head, “Whatever you do,” she said, “don’t get old!”

“Too late, Nana.” I replied. And I wasn’t really joking.

Of course, this all brings us down to a poem that I wrote, inspired by Ballets Russes and Nathalie Krassovska in particular, but also by my own grandmothers…

Ballets Russes

In monochrome film she is sylph-like,
an ingénue sur les pointes in the footlights,
a fairytale spun across the stage.

Effortlessly she holds her audience.
They time their breaths to each fouetté,
gasp as one with each grand jeté, and
when she pauses, mid-arabesque,
and smiles,
they shriek
they swoon
they die.

Add technicolor and seventy years,
and she is no longer Balanchine’s baby ballerina,
her limbs weighed down with age, unnaturally
bowed with arthritis. In her hair, chemicals
mimic the color of youth, as her violent red lipstick
bleeds into the lines that whisker her mouth.

The mirror behind the barre
reflects her decline, yet she points her toes still,
attempting elegance in orthopedic insoles,
gnarled fingers striving for grace
but falling far short of grand pose.

Then the music begins
and she closes her eyes,
disappearing once more
into sublime black and white.

-Lo, who gets older every passing second.


Mood: Threadbare
Drinking: Watered-down tea


It’s gone
before she can close her fingers
around it.

Gone like a flash
like a fish, slippery
and silver. Catch
and release is
supposed to be intentional

she looks surprised

“What are you looking for?”
(The keys are in her left
front pocket.)
She replies with a
triumphant jingle, her
eyes sparking alight.

Three seconds later
the spark goes out and
she’s looking again.

This time I tell her where they are.

She says, “How did you know
that’s what I was looking for?”

I tell her I’m psychic, but
can’t watch her laugh.

The joke’s not funny
when the punchline
is buckled into the passenger’s
seat. The joke’s not
funny when it’s been repeated
17 times in 7 miles. The
joke’s not funny.

Three weeks later
on the telephone
she tells me my
dead grandfather
is waving to all the
smokers outside her
hospital window.

“I’ll be fine, though.”
Pause. Wheeze.
“I don’t smoke
as much as I
used to.”
(Not a single one since
I was 12.)
“Only one or two
a day, now.”

I want to ask
what day it is, exactly.
But days don’t really matter
when you’re stuck
in the wrong decade.

It’s nicer there, anyway.
She’s got cigarettes and Ernie
inside her plastic castle. Please
don’t tap on the glass.

Three seconds later
she remembers herself.

“When you’re a bully
all your life, you get
what you deserve. I
get what I deserve.”
She says it
without pity.
I pretend I didn’t hear her.

The truth is easy to forget.

Wait just one more second
and it’s gone.

-Lo, who is beginning to believe that “growing old gracefully” is a crock.